With Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas before us, there is a flurry of preparation. Sales ads urging us to get budget-saving deals, gift lists and checklists being made, plans locked into a quickly filling calendar. Then there’s the Christmas tree hunt. If you’re like me, I want that tree early so there’s more time to enjoy it. I drag my husband to Home Depot, make him hold and spin twenty trees before I find THE one! After tree hunting, my husband’s job is not yet done! I then I have him bring up the dozens and dozens (not really, but he says it feels like it) of Christmas decoration boxes stored in the garage so I can start preparing the house!
This year my son-in-law, Tim, helped him bring up all the boxes. My daughter, Chloe, and two grandkids, Micah (3 yrs) and Caila (1 yr) also joined in to help prepare the house with decorations. With the grandkids there, I found the hard work suddenly became lighter, but not because they physically helped me. Just watching their faces light up when all the Christmas bears were brought out, the lightness of their joy filled the house! Two of the bears sing Christmas songs when their paws are squeezed. Their mechanical mouths move too! The kids squealed with delight, bobbed their cute little bodies up and down (the kid dance), and clapped their hands! Caila must have squeezed those paws more than a dozen times!
When my four (now adult) children were little, there was something about these fleeting moments and pure reactions I often missed because I was overwhelmed by how much needed to get done. It was more about survival. Years ago, I may have reacted with a stern, “stop squeezing that bear!” rather than with laughter.
But now, as a grandmother, the Lord has given me a new opportunity to do it better, to slow down, to notice those small things, and be present in these moments with my grandkids. Perhaps all along, I was supposed to pause more often. God is a God of second chances, and He has given me another chance. How beautiful is this? Christmas is looking different already. Redemptive. Hmmm…
Glancing over to the next box sat the nativity set. It’s a beautiful porcelain antique set a friend gave me many years ago. With Micah there, I invited him to help set up the nativity with me. We carefully unwrapped each figurine to put in the wooden stable. First the angel. Then the shepherd boy…Mary…Joseph…camel…cow…sheep…donkey. With the three wise men, I explained that they were bringing gifts to baby Jesus, the King of kings. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They followed the star until they found Him. We lastly unwrapped the baby Jesus in the manger. Micah whispered, “Jesus,” as his eyes smiled.
We stepped back to look at the manger. Beautiful, just as it was each year. And to top it off, Micah heard my version of the true meaning of Christmas. Or so I thought. Micah looked at it and said, “Wait, I want to put something in it.” He then got his little plastic farm trucks with wagons and put them into the display. Then he took his little plastic farm animals and put them in as well. It was sort of ruining my beautiful display! Then he said, “They’re bringing gifts, too.” You’d think that would have gotten my attention… Instead, I texted a picture of the nativity scene to some of my friends with the caption “…When your grandson helps set up the nativity,” adding a laughing emoji. Most replied back, “Haha cute!”
But when my friend Judy replied, “His gifts to Baby Jesus! Couldn’t be more perfect!” It hit me! Perfect? Yes, our imperfect gifts are perfect in the Lord’s eyes. Micah understood this immediately (ahh, the heart of a child!). His gift was perfect and he knew Jesus would be pleased.
How much I’ve struggled with whether or not my “gift” was good enough. The Lord just wants us to bring ourselves and our “gifts” into His perfect, loving, transforming hands. The stable Jesus was born in wasn’t beautiful and pristine like my porcelain nativity set. In reality, it was smelly, dirty and messy. He chose that place to be born, to let us know he can handle our messes.
Another second chance to pause. It’s starting to dawn on me (have grace, I’m a slow learner) that preparation is less about decorating the home and getting the deals on gifts; Christmas is about preparing the heart. Advent literally means to prepare for the Lord’s coming. During the Advent season, we revisit scriptures of God’s first arrival, wrapped as a baby, bringing salvation into the world.
And it’s not just a past event; it’s a present reality. He has already come, He is here now! Oh that we may prepare our hearts to receive Him each and every day! Jesus invites us to freely come, bearing our gifts — without shame — knowing they are perfect in His sight.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
– James 1:17